If a mobile device provides a good browsing experience, users will use it to access the web. This statement is clearly supported by Net Applications’ operating system market share data for devices accessing the web in February 2008. Apple’s iPhone outperformed Windows mobile (CE) devices more than 2 times. This is particularly impressive because only about 4 million iPhones compete with 20 million Windows CE devices. In addition there are hundreds of millions of Nokia phones, for which the market share (Series60 OS) is reported to be only 1/7 of the iPhone figure. In other words, 4 million iPhones access the web almost 2 times more often than all Windows mobile and Nokia devices together.
Looking at the actual numbers, mobile web access is only about 0.3%, so still plays a minor role. However, the Net Applications data support common belief that mobile devices will be widely used to surf the web when they provide a better browsing experience.
It is estimated that 3 billion mobile phones are in use today, and only about 1 billion PCs. Yet almost all web browsing is done on PCs. Why?
The conventional 1.5 x 2 inch screen on most mobile devices is just too small. According to Mobref.com, more than 60% have a horizontal screen resolution of 176px or 128px, or even less. Most web sites do not offer a mobile interface. Viewing such sites on a 1.5” wide screen requires lots of scrolling. Unless a phone is 3G, data transfer is slow. Even with an iPhone which is not a 3G phone yet, surfing the web is reported to be painfully slow using At&T’s mobile connection (EDGE). Only with its WiFi option, the iPhone provides fast enough web browsing.
Phones will become more powerful, with faster access, larger screens, and better web browsers. Mobile Internet access will become cheaper, too. I strongly believe that despite current low mobile access stats, web site owners should no longer hesitate to build a site version that supports mobile devices. If your site is not web standards compliant yet, make XHTML plus CSS your first priority. Unless your site targets a mobile audience, there is no need to have a tailored version for all of the 50+ different mobile browser models out there today. One style sheet that optimizes the site for mobile access can easily be implemented and for most sites would make a huge difference already.